Regenerative Economics 101

In 2015, John Fullerton wrote Regenerative Capitalism, a paper that describes eight principles that could underpin of a new economic system — one that delivers shared prosperity on a thriving planet. In the paper, he writes,

The universal patterns and principles the cosmos uses to build stable, healthy, and sustainable systems throughout the real world can and must be used as a model for economic-system design.

Below are Natural Capitalism Solutions’ interpretation of the eight principles. We share the original text of each principle, describe how it shows up in nature, how it shows up in business, and what an individual can do to embody it and bring it more to life in the world. Our hope is that these bring the principles to life so that we can all take part in transforming economic systems to ones that are healthy for people and the planet.

Regenerative Principle #1: In Right Relationship

The Principle: “Understands that the ecosphere is composed of nested systems, living and nonliving. Recognizes that the human economy is embedded in both culture and the ecosphere and must operate in dynamic and cooperative relationship with them, respecting cultural needs and planetary limits. Allows for critical value adding exchanges to occur at all scales in reciprocal relationship, in contrast with commoditized transactions.”

The Principle in Nature: While nature is often portrayed as a kingdom of competition, in reality, cooperation is much more the law of the land. There are countless examples of animals — even humans — cooperating to accomplish mutual goals. Sometimes the cooperation is even interspecies.

The Principle in Business: There is a growing movement of businesses that see their role as more than simply maximizing shareholder value. B Corporations prioritize environmental and social goals as much as fiscal ones. They understand that they can leave the world a better place than it was when they started — and do so profitably. Ultimately, business is one part of human civilization, which is just one part of the web of life on the planet. Viewing business as in relationship with the rest of the planet changes how it functions. This perspective can turn business into a force for good and a powerful ally in solving some of the most challenging problems of our day.

What You Can Do: Observe the instances of cooperation around you all the time — in nature, in the business world, and in human culture more broadly. Embody this principle by reflecting on the opportunities for cooperation and healthy interactions, and take them when possible. For example, businesses can broaden their relationship with local businesses and vendors. As an individual, seek collaboration and advice from neighbors on your projects, such as gardening, creative work, or business endeavors. Support organizations that focus on being in right relationship with nature and society.


Regenerative Principle #2: Views Wealth Holistically

The Principle: “Defines wealth in terms of the well-being of the ‘whole’ rather than only what is reducible to money. Redefines wealth to mean multiple kinds of capital beyond financial wealth. Recognizes that numerous dimensions of human and natural capital cannot be measured in monetary terms but must be nurtured as intrinsic components of holistic wealth.”

The Principle in Nature: Healthy ecosystems provide abundant resources that allow each species that relies on it to thrive. There is no exchange of money and yet there is value everywhere. The Kalahari Bushmen live by this principle as well, as described in the book Affluence Without Abundance. When nature is operating in an undamaged state, it generates holistic wealth that sustains life.

The Principle in Business: Businesses that embody the regenerative principles know that wealth is more than just financial. They have human capital, in the form of happy employees that are well taken care of; they have cultural capital by offering a space for positive, diverse, and empowering interactions to take place; and they value natural capital, by creating value chains that enhance the health of the planetary space they share. The Capital Institute’s Field Guide offers examples of organizations that use wealth and money in innovative ways to bring about a more regenerative world.

What You Can Do: Take stock of the various forms of wealth you hold other than financial. Perhaps it’s a satisfying social network, access to parks and natural spaces, the ability to pursue curiosity and develop intellectually, or spiritual fulfillment. Support community organizations that emphasize multiple forms of capital, such as Slow Money in Boulder, and seek to build the various types of wealth that can provide deeper fulfillment than money.